“Bank and come due South.” Jayn instructed.
Half the flight followed Reed’s plane. “Fan out and look for surface contacts.” He added to their instructions.
The order had come through shortly after they had grouped up. The troop transports, taking what they thought was a safe Southern route, were under attack from air and sea.
Above and ahead of the Wasps, the Cicciles kept a look out for the reported fighters. Jayn scanned the sea for the trails of ships’ wakes. “Contact. Red Seven has contact, bearing 200.” Came the report.
Red Seven was on the Eastern arm of their spread. Jayn rapidly calculated the necessary course adjustments. “All Wasps come to….” Explosions shattered the engine bay of the Ciccile ahead and to the left of their plane. Robbed of power, the tail dropped, forcing the fighter into a false climb. It faltered, reached stall speed and tumbled backwards out of the sky. Ahead and to the right another Ciccile went into a flat spin as shell severed most of its right wing. Two fat, tubular shapes with wide square wings shot up through the gaps, climbing rapidly.
“Wasps, follow Red Seven to target.” The unspoken order to the Cicciles was obvious. Some climbed to intercept the Corkscrews, the rest formed cover above and below the Wasps.
The surface battle came into view. Four transport ships- one damaged and lagging as the others broke for shore- two combat vessels and a messy slick where another was sinking. Both of the fighting ships looked familiar. Similar types had escorted the Heavensent. “Can we contact the ships?”
“We were not told the frequency or any of the call signs.”
The single gunned ship fired on the transports, the shell falling just short. “No matter. I think that is identification enough. Wasps, form up for attack behind me.”
They did not have the right bombs to puncture a warship’s hull. The best they could hope for was to destroy the command and control. Reed lined up for an attack along the length of the ship. No different to hitting trucks on a road, he told himself. They came in low, from the rear. “You have the plane.” He told Jayn.
She made some basic adjustments, lining up the rockets, then pulling up when they had fired. They exploded in the antennae behind the main island, just as the bombs were released. One bomb overshot, bursting just behind the turret. Jayn pulled up, ready to hand control back to Reed.
Something exploded behind the cockpit, then inside it. One of the fat tubular planes passed overhead, trailing smoke.
No, the red was inside the glass. The arrowhead shapes of two Cicciles passed above the Wasp, chasing down the Corkscrew.
Jayn kept the plane level. Why wasn’t Reed taking the controls back? She glanced over. He was slumped back in his seat, his chest a big red hole where the shell had passed through. She didn’t feel nausea, or even panic, still running on the adrenaline of the bombing run. However, the plane was beginning to shake and sink.
It was possible to fly and land a Wasp from the bombardier’s seat, and Jayn had trained to do so. She had never had to land in the open sea. She was heading over the transports, a little more power kept the plane a safe height above them. A little bank brought it perpendicular to the rollers and then she let it drop. Letting the flaps out slowed the plane, but Jayn had to fight to keep it level.
The tail dipped and clipped the top of a roller, pitching the plane nose down onto the top of the next wave. The propellers and nose dug into the water, tipping the plane forward. Another wave hit, bringing the tail splashing back down.
Water was flowing into the cockpit. Jayn stared at it as it washed over her boots. She was numb, now the shock was beginning to set in. Suddenly the clasp on her harness was too complicated to unlock. The water splashed over the top of her boots. She remembered how to unfasten the harness. When all the belts had fallen away she stood on her seat and pushed at the emergency panels. Another wave hit the plane and for a moment it rode along on the crest, threatening to tip over.
Jayn looked back into the cabin. The water was up to the bottom of the seats. There was nothing she could do for Reed, she kept telling herself, but she had to survive. The floatation aid she wore would not serve as well as the life raft the plane carried. There was a panel above the rear of the cockpit. She twisted the handle and opened it. The big yellow bundle was hard to handle on her own, but she managed to push it into the water, grabbing the pull handle as it went. When it was inflated she leapt into the water and swam over to it.
Only when she was safely aboard the life raft did Jayn allow herself to lean over the edge and be violently, painfully sick.